Sunday, November 15, 2009

A little lime zest

Until I moved into my new apartment (where I have no cable and no rabbit ears for my tv) I was an unabashed Food Network peong! I could sit and watch Ace of Cakes and Barefoot Contessa, not to mention Next Food Network Star (swearing all the time that that coulda be me!) and Secrets of a Restaurant Chef for hours at a time. Whole sundays would be given over to watching Guy Fieri drive from one diner to another eating the most fabulous and no doubt heartburn inducing things! There's something both sexy and comforting (an odd combination, I suppose) about watching other people cook.

In addition to watching the famous people, I've also been a food adventurer all my life. This has led to some unmitigated disasters (in which the only rational response would have been to throw the food in the bin) and some quite special and memorable concoctions. What I've learned about cooking food (from my own explorations, and from my hours of watching Food Network) is that good food starts with good ingredients and a knowledge of how those ingredients work. I think learning to cook is really about learning an ingredient - what it works with; what it's a disaster with; what makes it shine; whether it can stand alone or whether it provides good support to something else. It's the latter that I'm going to dwell on today - those special ingredients that move food from ordinary and okay, to special and interesting and exciting. They're things that all of us know about, yet few of us remember to buy, and use when we're cooking. Fresh herbs; ginger; different varieties of pepper (fresh peppers like seasoning peppers and scotch bonnet, jalapeño and chilli); nuts (pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, pecans and sunflower seeds); peppercorns - green ones, red ones, black ones; different kinds of salt (taste salt - and you'll understand that there are different varieties) lemon and lime zests (or even grapefruit and orange).

Today I was making pancakes out of the box. I'm sorry, but I've never been able to make a pancake from scratch that's as good as a pancake made from Aunt Jemima's or bisquik pancake mix. And while I've always been quite content with following the instructions on the packet to the letter, today I decided to add some lime zest to the mixture. Not too much, just about a half teaspoon. And when I tell you, those little curls of zest elevated the packet pancake to something special and elegant. It wasn't overpowering. It just teased my taste buds: here a bit, there a bit - light citrus with good butter and runny maple syrup. Yum! (I'm threatening to have pancakes for dinner too!)

I've also taken to adding a little lime juice and zest to soups and salad dressings and those things are more special and interesting for the addition.


  1. Mariel Brown, I am utterly scandalized that you use pancake mix. Horrified, in fact. I'm going to send you a few of my easiest pancake recipes and you will never go back to the box.
    I love the addition of lemon or lime zest to anything, and a proper rasp is on my Christmas wish-list, to get those really fine shreds of zest.
    On the topic of peppercorns, pink peppercorns were a revelation for me, just crushed gently in a mortar & pestle and sprinked on a salad or piece of fish. Kev's mum served a few crushed pink peppercorns on vanilla ice cream and drizzled with Scotch or some liquer I think -- can't remember.

  2. Oh, and the pesto thing: lemon zest is a good addition to parsley pesto. My latest recipe with that was to toss a tin of mixed beans with a few tablespoons of parsley pesto and diced veggies and a light vinaigrette -- great salad. (I suppose I should remove the mote from my eye of using tinned beans before chastising you for pancake mix. But still: pancake mix has chemical flavour enhancers. That's my real issue with it. Go see Food, Inc. and then we talk!)

  3. Shiv - please send a decent recipe! I'd love to give it a try. Wish I could grow some flat-leaf parsley. One of my favourite herbs - probably ahead of basil - but very hard to find in trinidad.

  4. On the topic of zest - I'm currently going through a bit of a ginger zest obsession...or maybe it's a ginger obsession period. Nothing beats a hot cup of ginger tea on a Winter morning. I recently used ginger zest (well, is it zest if it's not the skin?) in a shiitake mushroom and noodle soup - it added the right amount of a sweet zing.

  5. Here's the most basic one imaginable, but I'm going to email you some other more interesting variations:

    2 1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
    1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder
    1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
    1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
    1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
    1 1/2 cups (375 mL) milk
    1/2 cup (125 mL) yogurt [not essential -- could just use milk]
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup (125 mL) canola oil
    [Optional: diced bananas or apple, or a handful of raisins. And your lemon or lime zest would be a great addition, or a bit of cinnamon.]

    1. Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Pour the wet mixture into dry mixture and whisk until smooth.
    2. Heat a griddle or nonstick skillet to medium-high. Brush with a little canola oil. Spoon 1/4 cup (50 mL) pancake batter onto griddle using a ladle. Flip the pancakes when bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 minutes. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes or until pancakes are cooked through. Adjust heat if pancakes are cooking too quickly or slowly.
    3. Serve with ample maple syrup and butter.